Thursday, December 28, 2006

So this is Christmas

Well after driving almost 1,000 miles in the past week and at least another 500 to go this next 4-5 days, here are my top 5 hates of the road:

  1. Drivers that like to sit about 10 feet from your rear bumper, even when they can see there is lots of other cars in front of you and you have nowhere to go. Remedy - tap your brake long enough to put the lights on but not actually brake too hard and watch them spin out of control behind you
  2. Drivers that decide the rules of the road don't apply to them and over take on the inside and then force their way out into your lane. Remedy - I have a small Blue LED light on my keyring - when they come out in front, I pull this out and flash it on and off near my windscreen - watch with pleasure as they pull over to the hard shoulder
  3. Highways Agency cars done up to look like police cars - Remedy - any ideas?
  4. Those unexplained delays when everybody slows down but you can;t see any explanation - and then everything starts moving again without any explanation. Remedy - ???
  5. People that sit in the outside lane at 70 mph and ignore all attempts to shift out of the way as they are doing the speed limit. Remedy - unfortunately fitting cars with Hellfire missiles is illegal :(

This has spurred me on to write some other lists of the year - watch this space

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas, 2007

I have not written about this at all on my blog, as it has been too personal, but I recently separated from my wife and moved out of the family home. This is not the forum to go into detail about it, but this fact will start to creep into my blog over coming posts.

For example, this is the first year that I will not be spending Christmas day with my children, Daniel and Sophie. So on the last evening that I spent with them this week, I did a mini Christmas party with, turkey, chocolate Yule log and some small presents - that's the picture above. We all had fun and I hope that they remember on Christmas day that even though I will not be with them, I love them very much and will be thinking about them. Roll on Boxing Day...

Stupid things seen recently

After the good comments I had about my rubber duck image, I have been keeping an eye out for other stupid things to snap and publish here. The first can be both be classified as:

Stupid things to do in the cause of security...

This sign was spotted on the back of a pack of batteries bought from Sainsburys. What worries me about this one is:

  • It implies it is OK to remove the security device and then microwave the batteries
  • I wonder what the cost of the security device and labour to fit it was - probably more than the batteries are worth
  • Is anybody that stupid? (Not to readers this is a rhetorical question - I am sure somebody out there is that stupid)

This sign was spotted on an office building in Staines - I just hope there isn't a fire just after somebody clamps a car in front of the door - thus ensuring that nobody will be able to get out...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Are we living in a James Bond movie?

Is it just me or does the bizarre death of Alexander Litvinenko and the unfolding story of the criminal investigation into his death, make you do a double take and check you are actually watching the news and not the latest James Bond movie?

Its the combination of names:

  • Alexander Litvinenko
  • Mario Scaramella
  • Vladimir Putin

and the locations:

  • A Sushi Bar in Piccadilly
  • A hotel in Mayfair
  • London, Moscow, Nice

and the method of death:

It all adds up to a rather dodgy plot with a bizarre method of removing your alleged enemies, if somebody mentions a small white dog soon I wouldn't be at all surprised.

And what must the "real" professional intelligence services think? Surely there are far simpler methods of reaching the same goal?

Personally I think it was all done as some sort of bizarre bet or dare on behalf of some bored agents and its all gone horribly wrong.

Probably we'll never know the truth...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Social Networking, part 2

A few months back I wrote a blog post about Social Networks and in it I speculated that it wouldn't be long before somebody came up with some sort of aggregator, (cf Trillian for messenger) which allowed you to combine all your different bits on one site.

I received an email this week and blog comment, about the first site to do this,, started by a couple of college Grads. I've not had much chance to play with it and my first thought was the interface was a bit confusing, but take a look and let me know what you think - I'll add more of my own comments, errmm, soon.

Where is Mutton?

I know I do have a few regular readers out there in the wonderful world of the Internet and several have commented that I haven't done much blogging recently. Well, its true, I have been mad busy with a combination of work and personal stuff and just not had the time, but lots of stuff has been stored up just waiting to be unleashed on the blog. Watch this space...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Overheard on the BBC...

Apparently last week one of the BBC News 24 presenters was talking about the North Korea nuclear test and at the end of the article was heard to say - "For more information, Press The Red Button"

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bizarre things you find in hotel vending machines...

I am in Dublin on business and spotted little yellow ducks on sale in the hotel vending machines. Euro 3.50 in case you want to know

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I have been online for 12 years

Just recived an email and link to a blog post from a very old friend of mine, Vash. Vash was one of the first people I met on this strange thing called the internet and whilst we haven't been in regular contact for the past few years, I do have fond memories of making friends with people through a common interest, which was Science Fiction.

Specifically, we met in the newly formed Milliways discussion forum, dedicated to the works of that genius Douglas Adams. I made some good friends in that group, some of which, like Vash that I am still in contact with and some that I am not. But interestingly, I am in contact with a higher percentage of that group now thatn I think I would have been without the power of the interent, email etc. Living proof, if you need it, that the Internet is enabling things that have never been possible before.

p.s. In a totally serendipitous leap of surfing, writing this blog entry allowed me to discover this wonderful eulogy for the late Graham Chapman by John Cleese, briefly featuring at 1 minute and 23 seconds, the late and sorely missed Douglas Adams

p.p.s If anybody reads this and has a copy of the one hour documentary Hypertext, featuring Douglas Adamas and Tom Baker all about hypertext and micons and stuff like that - I would love to see it again.

p.p.p.s I found it myself on Google Video I recommned you go watch it...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Talk Talk Broadband - Fact can be stranger than fiction

Regular readers of my blog will know that I recently had a bit of a rant about Talk Talk Broadband and the appalling level of customer service received by my mum. With a bit of inside help from an old contact at Carphone Warehouse we got the situation resolved and mum has been happy, so far, with the live service.

In fact I would go so far as to say the service has been quite good - I was at Mum's recently and took the opportunity to update her PC with all those large updates that would have been tedious in the extreme to download over dial-up. Over two days I must have downloaded over 250Mb of updates and had no real problems to speak of with the connection.

Then the other day I was browsing my web stats programme - I use Google Analytics, because it's free and quite good (for free). I noticed with interest that I have been getting quite a few visitors to my site who had searched Google for phrases like "Talk Talk Broadband problem" and "Talk Talk Broadband technical help". For curiosity I put some of these phrases back into Google myself and was amazed to see that for some fo them I am the top result!

So a little experiment into SEO, I am going to try and get myself as the top match into Google for the Top 10 phrases that have already been used to get to the blog. Below is the list and the current results position which is on page 1 unless otherwise stated.

  • talktalk broadband not working - current position - Top result
  • talk talk broadband problems - current position - not in top 5 pages
  • talk talk broadband not working - current position - Result #3
  • talktalk broadband installation problems - current position - Result #18
  • talk talk broadband update - current position - Result #4
  • talktalk broadband service update - current position - Result #9
  • broadband talk talk problems - current position - Page 2, Result #16
  • talk talkbroadband call charges - current position - Result #12
  • talk talk broadband instalation problems - current position - Result #14
  • talktalk customer helpline number - current position - Page 2, Result #8

For anybody who has reached this page and wants help resolving their problems, you can always try reading my posts about how I solved it - most of them are on this page here

From the list above you can see quite clearly that significvant numbers of people are having problem with Talk Talk (or is that talktalk) connection problems, installation problems, service updates, helpline numbers (that could be help line number I suppose too, or even talk talk freephone technical customer service helpline number) and just overall getting the damn thing to work.

Even more staggering is that somebody bothered to go past page 5 to click on a link to me in response to the query "talk talk broadband problems" - they must have been really desperate for some sort of solution.

If I was Charles Dunstone at Carphone Warehouse, the owners of Talk Talk Broadband then I would still be very worried about the potential consumer backlash from such a poor service as reported on the BBC recently in an article entitle Battling with Broadband This article has some useful advice about how to complain about talk talk broadband, or any other broadband provider.

I will leave this for a week or so and then see how my SEO ranking has improved for these terms.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Daniel's 9th Birthday Party Pictures

It was my son Daniel's 9th Birthday last week and we had a "Make your own Pizza " party at our local Pizza Express in Staines.

Everyone hada good time and the staff were very helpful, we can definitely recommend it as a good idea for a birthday party.

We also took lots of pictures and you can see some of them on Flickr by clicking here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

StoryCode on Dragon's Den

One thing I will write quickl;y about is to let you know that one of the businesses I am involved in,, was featured on Dragon's den last week. Here is the video clip which somebody kindly put on YouTube.

Regular blogging can be difficult when you are busy

I know I have a few regular readers so just wanted to let you know that I haven't fogotten this blog I have just been busy last few weeks, combination of work, kids birthdays and my mum being rushed to hospital last week.

So just for now, here is an aide memoire for the stuff I do want to write about but haven't had the time:

  • More on Talk Talk Broadband
  • A blind man who was banned from driving
  • The NHS
  • Public transport - specifically trains
  • Stupid opening hours

So if you can be bothered, come back soon and watch out for the actual posts...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Daniel on his 9th birthday

Eating out for his 9th birthday, Daniel, Sophie, Louise and I went to the Angler`s Retreat near Laleham

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Talk Talk Broadband Problem

Been meaning to write this update, but things happened fast and I was away visiting family.

Last Thursday we were contacted by Talk Talk customer services, a very helpful person called Susan. She advised that the broadband service would go live on Thursday 31/8 and the relevant documentation and equipment would be sent out soon.

As luck would have it, I was visiting Mum in Liverpool this weekend and the broadband modem arrived on Saturday morning. Only slight problem was that it was addressed to the right address but the wrong person. Fortunately, Mum's postie is a conscientious bloke and rang the bell to double-check if it was for her.

I waited until Tuesday to see if the Username and password would arrive, but no such luck. So I decided to do as much of the installation as possible before leaving, thinking it would make Mum's job easier later in the week. The installation process was relatively smooth and I think even the most technically challenged person would be able to get through it.

The only slight hiccup was a failure to install the modem drivers first time, but a second attempt worked perfectly. Then, to my surprise, the modem actually managed to connect to the broadband service and it was clear the line was active for ADSL. So I called an automated helpline to retrieve the missing username and password and with a bit of trial and error, it is all working fine.

What trial and error? Well the helpline reads out in a nice female voice the password, which is case sensitive. But it doesn't tell you which letters are upper or lower, nor did it make any attempt, perhaps through use of the phonetic alphabet, to clarify potentially confusing letters. The only problem we had was an "n" or was it an "m"? "November" or "Mike" would have made it much easier.

So 18 weeks almost to the day to get the "free" service up and running. I haven't told Mum about all the complaints online about the actual quality of the service now it is working - we'll just see how that pans out.

Universal Music backs ad-funded download service

The online music world has changed again this week with the planned launch of a new music download service called SpiralFrog. This new service will offer totally legal music downloads for free and will monetise the service through advertising. It will be fascinating to watch the reaction of other major labels and services like iTunes. Not forgetting how this will impact in other areas such as movie and game downloads.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mobile Blogging

As you can see from the photos below, I have been playing with a new toy, Sony Ericsson K800i. This fantastic new 3G phone came with a link to blogger pre-installed. Just take a picture with the awesome 3 megapixel camera and select "Publish to Blog" - add a title and caption and within 30 seconds your visual masterpiece is live on the net. I have to say all the friends I have shown it to were blown away that you could do it so easily - hats off to Sony Ericsson and Blogger for making it so easy to use!

Its Summer, but doesnt feel like it on top of Mount Snowdon

1065m above sea level

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Out on the town with the boys

Barry, Shaun and Mike at the Fiveways pub in Liverpool

Sophie and her Nana

In Liverpool this weekend staying with my mum.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Daniel joining in with all the fun

As soon as Daniel saw the picture of Sophie he had to have one too


Testing this mobile blogging thing


Sophie looking very happy to see her daddy :-)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Click on my Google link pleeeeze

Just noticed that my Google Ad Sense ad at the top of this page is an ad for "Free Broadband" and guess who the lucky company bidding for this term is? You guessed it Talk Talk!

So click on the link pleeze and I will at least get some cash out of them

Irony, I love it...

The Ever Increasing Power of Bloggers

Working in the internet world is fascinating, watching new technologies, new ideas being born, growing, in most cases receiving broad adoption and occasionally crashing and burning.

Today I was reminded how powerful the internet generally has become and specifically the impact blogging can have. It is sad to see that some people, who really really need to know what it can do, are failing miserably to understand it's potential and in this case the part blogging can play in demanding and receiving accountability from out public servants.

What on earth am I rambling on about? Well it's simple, an experienced blogger and erstwhile colleague of mine, Tim Ireland is a waging a war of words with his local MP Anne Milton and the alleged actions of some of her campaign staff. I am not even going to try and explain further, just direct you over to Tim's site Bloggerheads.

Before you go, I will wish Tim well in his battle, it looks like right is on his side and I will watch with interest for news of a by-election in Guildford.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Update on Talk Talk Broadband Problem

After writing the previous posting about the problems mum is having getting Talk talk Broadband, I decided to email my blog to an old business contact of mine at Carphone Warehouse. I knew it wasn't his job, but asked him to forward it onto one of his colleagues who maybe able to help. He responded very quickly on Friday, telling me had sent on my email to the MD of Talk Talk Broadband - excellent.

He went onto say "Unfortunately we are in a situation where demand is far outweighing supply leading to our customer service problems. We are getting this sorted but finding and opening new call centres takes time. Apologies for the inconvenience caused."

Great to see some people at CW can respond quickly - thanks Ady.

So what has happened recently?

On Monday I got a less than helpful response from the Broadband Support team:


Dear Mr Mutton,

Thank you for your email.

Sorry for the delay in response.

upon checking, the order that we placed rejected as the system claimed that the post code does not match up with BT's database. Thuis is unusual as we used the same details to order the line rental for you, hence I have passed the account details to a department who will investigate this. If you do not hear any further details within the next ten working days, please contact customer services for an update.

If you have any general queries, please call customer services on 0870 444 1820.

For technical queries, please contact broadband technical support on 0871 226 7146 or email Calls to this number are charged at 10 pence per minute (call charges may vary from mobile phones and other telecom operators).

Both of these numbers can become busy during peak periods and TalkTalk apologises for any inconvenience caused by the delays.


  • Bad grammar and spelling
  • No specific contact details for the "department" now dealing with it
  • No easy method of follow up - for example I can tell them that the property is new and the postcode is also recently allocated, so they are probably using an old database

What I am most cross about is the fact that nobody bothered to contact my mum when the order was "rejected".

Then today, Wednesday, Mum called and told me about a report on BBC Breakfast News all about Talk Talk - you can read the article and watch the video here

The storm is gathering, I suggest Mr Dunstone starts looking for shelter...more soon.

Friday, August 18, 2006

You Get What You Pay For

It's time for a bit of a rant today about companies who think they have got a winning proposition but haven't really thought it through and can't deliver on the promise. My favourite one from history has to be Hoover's free Flights offer which reportedly cost the business of $50m over several years of litigation.

But today my rant is about Talk Talk from Carphone Warehouse and the free broadband offer they launched earlier this year. I'm a heavy user of broadband at home and currently use BT as my provider partly because I was working at yahoo when they launched BT yahoo and we got a discount, partly through apathy about the hassle of changing, but mostly because I have never had a single bad day of service and working in the internet biz requiring a reliable connection, this has been invaluable.

My mother however is a light internet user with an old PC of mine, still using dial-up, but already a customer of the Talk Talk phone service. So when the free broadband offer was launched she snapped up the opportunity and signed up. That was 23 April 2006. Since then she has had only one (1) communication from Talk Talk, advising her that her expected go live date was end of July 2006. Ok so that was a bit of a shock, but on the face of it, it looked like TT was being cautious and not promising quick service due to the rapid take-up of the offer. The letter also said that the broadband modem etc would turn up about ten days prior to Go live.

So the months rolled past and my mum forgot about it until early July when she started to look expectantly for her broadband equipment to arrive (she also started to make sure that I was available to visit her and set it all up when it arrived). July moved ever on and no equipment, so she thought she would try to ring customer service and find out what has happened (note, Mum still has not fully embraced the internet so at this point had not tried to email or use the web to contact TT).

Just for interest, I looked up the definition of Customer Service in Wikipedia:

"Customer service is the provision of labour and other resources, for the purpose of increasing the value that buyers receive from their purchases and from the processes leading up to the purchase"

It goes on to say:

"Strategic advantage through customer service
A company can outperform rivals only if it can establish a difference that it can preserve. Customer service can be such a difference. It is very difficult to control, and therefore difficult to imitate. It is difficult to control because of its variability. The level of service may vary greatly between two providers in the same organization. It may also vary from one moment to another, even as delivered by the same provider. The difficulty is compounded in multi-unit operations: in addition to variability within units, there is also variability among units.

That is both the challenge and the opportunity. The consistent delivery of superior service requires the careful design and execution of a whole system of activities that includes people, capital, technology, and processes. The few companies that can manage this system do stand out, and are sought out. This is the foundation of their sustainable competitive advantage"

To me the definition would be a bit less complex - "Customer Service means you pick up the bloody phone, listen to your customers and resolve their issues in a polite, efficient manner."

This is what happens when you call Talk talk Customer Service:

  • Nice chatty welcome message
  • List of options, you need option 2
  • List of options, you need option 2
  • List of options, you need option 5
  • Friendly female voice says that all operators are busy so please call back later
  • The line is disconnected

That's right, that's all you get.

No offer to leave message
No information about the company website
No way of staying on hold
Basically we're too busy go away

The other thing to note is that Customer service number is an 0870 number, i.e. chargeable and rarely included in any "free minutes" call package. But don't worry about that, go to Say No to 0870 and you can find the 0800 phone number for Talk Talk customer service - 0800 0855900.

With no luck on the phone, Mum decides to pop into a CW store and enquire. The response was something like "Oh we have been inundated, we can't tell you when you will get it, we've got no idea"

So I decide to get involved and went to the Talk Talk website. It's easy to get order status and today, 18 August, 2006 it shows the Go Live date to be end of July - hmm no red flags here, you would expect somebody to be worrying about the service.

So I start hunting around the website for interesting snippets of poor customer service:

  • On this page all about tracking your order it says "We'll also update you regularly by email, and as we roll out free broadband 1 across the UK we'll publish updates here on our website."
  • It goes on to say: "Our online order checker gives you the very latest information about your order. Please don't call us unless there is another problem, as our advisors won't have any more information than you can see online."
  • My favourite bit is: "Although our engineers are working night and day, there'll be some customers we can't connect immediately, and for a few people it could be several weeks. Whatever happens, we promise to connect you as soon as possible."
  • And wait for it: "I don't want to wait any more. When you join we give you an estimated "go live" date for your broadband. If there's a serious delay and you're still not connected after this date, please contact Customer Services. If you decide to cancel before we've had a chance to connect you, there may be a cancellation charge."

So, in summary, "We will get you live as soon as possible, but it could be several weeks (16 weeks so far), we will keep you advised regularly by email (nothing) and if there is a delay, you can call us (but nobody will answer), but if you get fed up waiting we may charge you for the privilege of having wasted all those months.

And then do a quick search on the net about the actual quality of service when it (hopefully) eventually goes live - like these people on the Consumer Action Group website and you come to the conclusion that was my title - You get What You Pay For.

Personally I am glad I don't own any share in Carphone Warehouse, because I think they have yet to reap what they have sown, but it is coming, just wait and see.

p.s. Two other facts - there is no phone number for customer services on the TT website and Ofcom - the telecoms industry regulator - doesn't investigate individual complaints, but if enough people complain, they will investigate the company - you can do that here - I did :)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Social Networking

I've been doing a fair bit of work recently looking at social networks, several start-ups that I can't name (yet) and it's been fascinating seeing the different approaches to this new phenomenon.

And then I realised that it isn't really new, it's just been given a fantastic new lease of life via the internet and via so called "web 2.0" tools. It's never been easier to keep in contact with disparate groups of people and sites have been created and evolved to serve niche markets. Here are some of the ones I belong to:

Friends Reunited - Main use for this is my old school friends from Liverpool, most of whom I discovered I wanted to know what they were up to, where they were living, jobs, families etc. - but there was nobody there that I had really missed and they have all faded away into non contact again

Yahoo Groups - The first type of social network I can remember. I belong to several groups - one is a collection of people who all love Science Fiction and Hitch Hikers Guide to the galaxy in particular. We originally met in the SF Forum on CompuServe back in the mid 90's and amazingly we still go through spurts of activity and messaging and the occasional meeting. The last unfortunately was to go see the HH movie, not a pleasant experience. Stay Hoopy guys. The other important group for me is "Ex_Amazon" started by me to keep in contact with the amazing people that I worked with in the first few years when was launched. In fact it's the main reason for this post today - we are getting together tonight for a few beers - first time in a couple of years, will be interesting to see how people have moved on.

LinkedIn - This is my main business network, with over 200 contacts to my name. It's proven very useful for me as a consultant, both bringing me work and also helping me forge new contacts leading to more business. Of all these sites, this is the one I currently use most often.

I have also joined other sites like MySpace, LifeLogger, Flickr etc., but I can't say I am really active with any of them.

Just like the long awaited interaction between yahoo IM, AOL and MSN, I wonder when these different networks will start to talk to each other and share data. A Trillian for social networking, not there's a thought, where is my VC phonebook...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Marketing Gone Mad!

Well I suppose that title should really be Merchandising Gone Mad. I went into my local Sainsburys yesterday to get a sandwich for lunch and had a quick wander around the non-food aisle, always looking out for a CD or DVD bargain.

Nothing to be seen in that area but my eye was inexorably drawn to a new display being put out, replacing the tired old Footie/England/World Cup stuff. I couldn't believe my eyes, it was "Kids Back to School" uniforms! I kid you not, on Tuesday 19 July, more than a whole week before the local schools actually finish this year, Sainsburys are promoting the BTS range.

WE always moan every year as Christmas seems to start even earlier, but this is just ridiculous. Can't you at least allow the kids a couple of weeks of summer before they get confronted with the prospect of returning to their studies.

I think this is a big mistake and I say "Boycott Sainsburys" - so there - that will get them worried. I am off now to send this to the BBC, I want action.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cycling is fun and good exercise

I've just got back from a long lunch, during which I went for a lovely bike ride along the Thames Path from Staines three quarters of the way to Windsor. Why three quarters I hear somebody ask? Well, I wanted to see how far I could get in 25 minutes riding, then stop for 10 minutes to eat lunch and then cycle back.

I have been walking this route and can get from Staines to Runnymede Pleasure grounds in 25 minutes. I've calculated that this is about 3.5 miles there and back - a good healthy walk for lunchtime.

But today I came to work by bike as Staines bridge is temporarily closed to vehicle traffic, see this post for the original fiasco. So I thought I would see how far I would get in the same time by bike.

The Thames Path is great for cycling as it is almost uniformly flat, being by a river, and has beautiful views of the river as you travel. By a quick estimate of my speed, I think I did about 6 miles out, so 12 miles round trip, burning approximately 691 calories according to this calculator

Monday, June 26, 2006

This looks like fun

Thanks to Bloggerheads and Wibbler for introducing me to Street Wars, a new game coming to London soon.

If you have ever fancied living the lifestyle of an international assassin, but without the blood and gore, check out the site

Sack the speech writer

...or at least her advisers.

I only caught the last 20 minutes or so of the Queen's Birthday bash at the Palace yesterday on BBC, having been more interested in the Football. From what I saw it looked like it had been an interesting and entertaining show, right up until the climax when the Queen came on stage and did her speech.

What on earth were her advisers/speech writers / pr gurus etc thinking? With an audience of thousands of young children in person plus who knows how many via TV, apart from one sentence at the start, her choice of language and manner of presentation left me thinking more of an address to a particularly dull session of parliament than a kids party.

Reed the text of her speech and I have no doubt a significant percentage of the words used would be challenging for a teenager to understand or spell, never mind some of the adults in the audience.

If one of the reasons behind the event was to "humanise" the Queen more and make her more accessible to the younger generation, then I think it failed miserably.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Fond memories

In the UK, the Sci Fi Channel has just started re-running The original Star Trek series (ST:TOS) from the late 60's. This time the series has been digitally re-mastered and the quality is great (apart from the ever present Sci Fi logo).

What is annoying though is that whoever is scheduling the episodes has not bothered to check the original transmission schedule as they are not in sequence.

However, it's great to see this classic series again, like lots of kids it inspired me to read lots of science fiction and was ground-breaking television. It's amazing the things you forget, like how bad the dodgy sets really were and the "aliens" I have just watched an episode "The Man Trap" and in one scene a plant reacts aggressively to a creature masquerading as a Star Fleet crewman. Well I say plant, it's quite clear from the shot that it is somebody's hand in a fancy glove pretending to be a plant - wonderful stuff.

The episode also featured Yeoman Janice Rand, who I now remember was one of the first women I ever took a keen interest in. Not in the original '67 when it was first broadcast (I was only 3), but in the late 70's when I discovered Star Trek as a hormonal teenager.

She actually appeared in the later films too, the last one being Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, when she was communications officer on Captain Sulu's ship, the Excelsior.

I also found it interesting, watching the early episodes how underdeveloped the characters were, especially Spock. In another episode, "Charlie X", there is a scene in the precursor to ST:TNG's Ten Forward, "Recreation Room 6" Spock is sitting playing some sort of Vulcan guitar and is clearly seen smiling as Lt. Uhuru makes up a song and sings along. Spock smiling?? Surely there is some mistake, not the logical, unemotional Vulcan.

I can't wait to see the rest of the series...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Detritus triumphant

Well almost.

Last night the regulars of Team Detritus, Peter, Phil and myself, managed to get all our brain cells lined up and we took 3rd place out of 12 in the quiz, with a magnificent score of 20 out of 40. If you don't think that sounds very good, then don't mock, read this old post to find out how hard it is.

Barry Taplin, Stag Do

Had a very enjoyable weekend at an old friend's Stag party. We did some Clay Pigeon shooting, followed by Greyhound Racing. I've uploaded some pictures here

Friday, May 12, 2006

Pointless functionality - Part 1

I've called this part 1, because once I have started I am sure I will add more. I was just browsing LinkedIN, if you don't know it, it's a network community site which I have found useful making connections etc.

Anyway, I was looking for a connection in one of my friends networks and browsing through the list my eye was drawn to my own name. Now this wasn't because I love myself and like seeing my name in print, but because LinkedIn have chosen to add a little graphic arrow with the word "you" next to it.

I can just imagine the product meeting that came up at:

"So what new and innovative functionality are we going to add to the site this week?"

"How about we add a little graphic to people's network lists that highlight their own name?"


"Well maybe someone is browsing their friends networks when they are feeling a little insecure and it would be good to see that someone values them, or they could be drunk or maybe they are just having a schizophrenic moment and need reminding who they really are!"

"Sounds cool, that works for me, let's do it"

Maybe I will start a website where people can vote for the stupidest bit functionality on a website...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Town Planners, who put them in charge?

I've always had a bit of barely repressed aggression in relation to Town Planners. It usually surfaces when I am sitting a traffic queue to get in or out of a badly designed retail park, but last week it rose up on my regular journey to work.

Day 1 - traveling to work over Staines Bridge, I see a yellow sign advertising an impending Bridge Closure, for NINE days from May 9th to May 18th. Bloody hell I thought, that's going to make traffic interesting. The bridge will only be from 9 until 4.30pm, but as my usual departure for work is about 9.15, it looks like I am walking/cycling a for a few weeks. I keep saying I am going to get more exercise that way

Day 3 - traveling from work - The sign has been changed, blue and white writing over original yellow and black - it now says May 9th for just 2 days, ho hum, there goes my exercise routine.

Day 5 - traveling to work, red sign saying delayed over blue and white, over yellow and black, you get the idea. No more dates, no idea if/when this will happen.

Day 7 - traveling from work - sign on this side of the bridge has lost it's red delayed sticker back to plan B

In summary, words such as piss up and brewery spring to mind. How hard can it be to:

a) Plan for the work to be done and how long it will take
b) Advertise it

A footnote, whilst looking for a pretty picture of Staines Bridge for this blog I spotted this fine document all about the closure. They estimated one week, which is shorter than nine days and much longer than 2 days.

But this isn't the end of it, oh no. This all happened in the same week that we received at home notification of the intention to knock down the Spelthorne Council Office and build a block of flats with "90 dwellings"

Why has this annoyed me? Well last year, I had a planning application turned down to turn an unused first floor balcony (which overlooks the school field and said Council Offices) into a conservatory off our main bedroom. The reason given, because it was not in keeping in the character of the surrounding area, despite the fact that the only people that would be able to see it, would be those working at the Council.

So now, it's OK for the council to tear down a very nice looking historical building and fundamentally alter the character of the area by adding flats, complete with residents, cars, kids, noise and everything else that goes with neighbours, but it is not OK for me to make a small and virtually invisible change to my house. That's local government for you.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Anybody who knows me will know that I find the theory of Evolution interesting, fascinating even, and it is a theme that crops up in conversation on many occasions (stop yawning over there).

My two favourites examples of evolution are

  1. The Heike Crab

  2. The Internet

The Heike Crab

For those of you who don't already know (I can see you yawning, but I know you really, really want to hear this again) is a crab from Japan with an unusual history.

Old Japanese legend has it that in 1185, after defeat at the battle of Dan-no-ura in the Genpei war, the Emperor Antoku and his Taira warriors, committed suicide by throwing themselves into the sea. From this time, the heike crabs in this area are believed to hold the spirits of the dead warriors and any crab caught that has a carapace which resembles the face of a samurai warrior are thrown back into the sea.

Thus over the last 800+ years, crabs that carry this resemblance are more likely to survive and breed, thus forcing them down an evolutionary path, in this case artificial, not natural selection. The end result, you can see for yourself, is remarkable.

The Internet

Well actually that should really say something like "business models of companies primarily using the internet as their trading medium", but "the Internet" is a bit snappier when you're having this conversation in a pub.

So many different examples to use, but a good one to quote is the rise of the Internet Search Engine, such as Yahoo, Google, or remember Alta Vista?

There is a lot of talk in Internet circles about the dominance of Google at the moment and how it seems to be expanding into lots of new areas. I've been online since late 1994 and I've watched with interest the changing search landscape and just have one thing to say, well a couple of things really:

  • It's tough being number one, everybody is out to get you

  • It takes genius to invent, it takes engineering to replicate

  • Somebody is always trying to build a better mousetrap

  • If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants

So what does that all mean?

Basically what I am trying to say (and if you don't stop yawning, I'll start talking about Schrodinger's Cat again) is that the rapid pace of technological change as illustrated by the Internet in all it's glory, has also accelerated the process of evolution.

This example, the evolution of search engines, I think illustrates all of the above points and I hereby predict that somebody, someday, sooner rather than later, will invent a better search engine than Google and it will become the dominant player. I also predict that this new search engine would not have been possible without the pioneering work of it's predecessors, i.e. "Standing on the shoulders of Giants"

I also predict that it is quite possible it will be ex Google people that do it!

Two other more esoteric references to evolution, I remember reading a book, "Oath of Fealty" about the development of earth's first Arcology and the impact it has on the society surrounding it's location, Los Angeles I believe. I remember a phrase from the book that stuck in my mind, "It's just evolution in action", which in the book referred to the stupidity of some intruders into the arcology that ignored clear signs that they could be killed if they continued to break in. They carry on and guess what? They get killed. I often wondered if this book had an influential effect on the founder of the Darwin Awards.

Finally (honestly), my last reference to Evolution is from one of my favourite Clint Eastwood movies, Heartbreak Ridge. AS tough guy, Gunny Highway, Clint refers often to the US Marine Corps motto: Innovate, adapt, overcome! Now if that isn't an evolutionary call to action I don't know what is.

Phew, this has to be my longest blog post ever. Well it is a bit of a big topic...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Go Detritus!

Either we are getting smarter, the questions are getting easier, or we had a lucky night. Whatever the reason we got one of our best scores in the Pub Quiz last night, 21 out of 40 (don't mock at that until you have tried it.)

Not only that we were 6th out of 11 teams, only about 7 points behind the winners!

What was just as annoying was the couple of questions we were convinced we knew the answer too, but just couldn't tease the information out of our beer dulled brains.

Convinced that there must be a name for this condition (apart from forgetfulness)I did a quick search on Google and found an interesting article on Wikipedia about a phenomenon known as "Presque vu" related to the more common Deja Vu, the term is from the French language, meaning "almost seen," the expression means almost, but not quite, remembering something. Often very disorienting and distracting, presque vu rarely leads to an actual breakthrough. Frequently, one experiencing presque vu will say that they have something "on the tip of their tongue".

This exactly describes how I felt last night, there were several questions where I could feel the answer just out of my grasp in my memory. I can remember related facts, where and when I had heard the name before, could even describe a person, but just couldn't quite bring the name into focus - very frustrating.

What is mildly worrying, is that the article goes on to say: "Presque vu is often cited by people who suffer from epilepsy or other seizure-related brain conditions, such as temporal lobe lability. This condition is related to people who exhibit strong artistic or imaginative abilities, however also related to the theory that Alien Abductions are most often psychic incidents, i.e. the person imagines the abduction, but at such a detailed level that they strongly believe it is true. Such a phenomenon is also knows as False memory syndrome.

I have always been fascinated by memory and how it is triggered by smells, sounds, even colour. I think more reading is required...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I have escaped the Digital Stone Age

I have just returned from almost week stuck in the Digital stone age, also known as "visiting family".

A typical day for me usually involves me never being away from a fast internet connection for more than a couple of hours at a time:

  • Home - 1Mb connection
  • Office - 512k connection
  • London - Up to 1Mb connection in wifi hotspots, e.g. Starbucks

Usually when I go "Up North", the slow dial-up connection via my mobile GPRS is quite sufficient for picking up email and I just grumble quietly about not being able to do too much as the cost of 1Mb data over GPRS is something akin to a cheap laptop on eBay

However, this trip, was poorly timed and I had some serious work to do, unfortunately on various web based services which meant I was going to use a serious amount of data. Luckily, my T-mobile provider has just started offering an all you can eat GPRS access for just £7.50 per month, bargain I thought.

If only it had been that simple, not having to worry about the cost, I set about doing my stuff only to discover that the so called GPRS connection has a theoretical max speed of about 115kps, but an actual speed of data glacial if you try to do anything serious. So what would normally have taken 30 mins took about 3 hours of excruciatingly slow page refreshes.

The next day, I tried a different approach and tried to find a WiFi connection. First I tried a Cafe Nero, supposedly part of the Surf and Sip network, except, the staff there couldn'tt spell internett never mind work out why their wifi connection was appearing for only about 1 second every five minutes.

Second I tried a local bar, supposedly part of the same network, the conversation went something like this:

"What can I get ya?" asked bored looking female bar staff.
"Is your wifi connection working in here?" I asked politeley
"Our what?"
"Your internet connection, you're supposed to have a wifi hotspot here?"
"Our hifi connection? What's that? The jukebox uses CDs, we havent had hifi here for years"
"Never mind"

Finally, I drove out to another pub and sat in the car park trying to pick up the hotspot signal - success, it was there but a poor connection. So I went inside and ordered a beer, asking the bar man where was the best spot for his wifi connection.

"What's that?" he said looking puzzled.
"Your wifi hotspot, the connection was a bit weak in the car park, where is your router?"
"We don't have an internet connection here", he said looking a bit baffled, "maybe you are picking up a local house?"
"OK, I'll just sit over here quietly", I said, not having the energy to argue.

For the next half an hour I enjoyed wifi/broadband bliss, whilst occasionaly giving knowing glances to the puzzled looking barman.

And the moral of this story, just because your wifi provider says there should be a hotspot there, don't you believe it, I'm off now to look at the price of a 3G laptop PCMCIA card....

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Making a Complaint

I saw a TV advert on Sunday that, for the first time, made want to make a complaint. The advert was quite short and simple, for BUPA and made a simple claim, if you go with BUPA you will be treated in a clean and comfortable hospital. You can see the advert here

Personally I was shocked, what idiot at BUPA decided that slagging off the NHS was a good way to promote private health care? In my experience, using negatives like this in advertising rarely results in a successful campaign. The advert does not mention the NHS by name, that would have gone way too far, but what other source of hospital care is commonly available in the UK? Any intelligent viewer would draw the same conclusions as I did.

Consequently, if I worked in the NHS (I don't, but mother worked as a nurse for many years), I would be deeply offended by the advert. There has been lots of talk over the past few years about cleanliness in hospitals and MRSA, but I am not aware of any research that shows private hospitals are any cleaner than NHS. In fact a quick search of the BUPA website shows no information to substantiate the claim, there is an article which claims that "access to a clean hospital" is the deciding factor in choosing health insurance, but no independent verification that BUPA hospitals are any cleaner than their "competitors".

We can debate the rights and wrongs about NHS funding, how the funds are used and the effectiveness of NHS management, but my reaction to the advert was more on behalf of the average NHS employee. I am sure the vast majority of these people are doing their best every day in a challenging environment and seeing an advert like that would be very irritating and annoying. I am sure people will tell me if I am wrong...

Anyway, it annoyed meso, I went along to the ASA website and registered my complaint. I know from personal experience that the ASA has the power to review an advert even if only one person complains. Of course, it is better if more do it too. So if you agree with me, don't sit there and do nothing, go to the ASA website and add your own complaint against BUPA.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

15 Goals in 3 games!

It's been a frustrating season for Liverpool fans, with so few goals this year and a run of bad luck in important games. Then look what happens, 15 goals in 3 games, admittedly against some of the less proficient teams in the premiership, but nevertheless, last night's performance against Birmingham was fantastic.

What is even more amazing is that the team that started last night had five different players than the match against Newcastle on Sunday. There is lots of discussion about the need for a comprehensive squad of players especially with the heavy schedule of games for any club involved in European football. Last night's performance demonstrated to me that the size of the squad is less important than the training and integration of the players.

Hats of too Raf for keeping the first team squad at a level of performance that has allowed players to slot in and out of the team on the pitch and function effectively with different team mates and sometimes in different positions.

The team performance over the last few games also bodes well for England. Apart from his total f**kup against Arsenal:

Gerrard has been magnificent, especially last night, setting up 4 of the goals.

Carragher has been the linchpin of the defense, time and time again. He provides a solidity and dependability for the team that allows them to push forward and take the game to other side, confident that they are well defended from the fast break.

Finally, Peter Crouch, long the concern of England and Liverpool fans alike is now showing the capability that others have seen in him and he has certainly won over the Liverpool crowd, very unhappy with his substitution last night, denying him the chance for a hat trick. Ask any Liverpool fan if they would have been concerned about that several months ago and they would have just laughed at you.

Come on you mighty Reds!

Web 2.0

There is lots of talk in the news about Web 2.0 and I just found this really useful list of Web 2.0 applications, thanks to another blog Sacred Cow Dung. Even more interesting is that one of the sites I am involved in, is in the list :)

Take a browse through and look at some of the amazing ways people are adapting internet technology to create or serve a need.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Barcelona 1 (3) : 1 (2) Chelsea

As a lifelong Liverpool fan, I am not dispapointed in the least by the departure of Cheslea from the Champions League.

Especially because the behaviour and comments of Chelsea manager Mourinho seem to grow more bizarre by the day.

In this article on the BBC, he blames "bad luck" for his teams loss and with reference to the sending off of del Horno in ther first leg he said "We have not seen two games where we had 11 players versus 11, so we have not seen Barcelona win against 11 - that's all I can say,"

What a great comment, he then went on to say: "This season we played one hour in the first leg with 10 men, but if Barca are in the next round they must be the better team"

I think that about sums it up, such insightful words of wisdom.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pub Quizzes

For the past few months, several friends and I have been attending a regular Tuesday night pub quiz at the "Wheatsheaf and Pigeon" in Staines. The quiz is particularly difficult, either that or we are just plain dumb.

According to Wikipedia A pub quiz is "a quiz held in a pub" - doesn't that just show you how useful open source websites are :)

Our team, "Detritus" varies from the hard core of two, Peter and myself, regular contributor Phil and occasional attendees, James, Louise, Wendy and Janne.

Considering there is usually only two or three of us, against teams of 4-8, it is not surprising that we consistently come either bottom or near bottom in the quiz.

However, I am sure it has something to do with the third round (of four), called the Bastard round.

Let me give you an example: How many of you, without looking it up in Google, know which Polish Concert Pianist became Polish Prime Minister in 1919? We certainly didn't, but if you really want to know, click here.

The final factor I am sure is about beer, our scores do tend to deteriorate during the quiz. Last night we got one of our worst scores, 14 out of 40 and for the second time only we got 0 out of 10 in the 3rd round. Ah well, better luck next time.

You may wonder why we do it, especially when you hear that the quiz master, Chris, takes great delight in ridiculing wrong answers as he reads out the scores. But then, I think that adds to the atmosphere and the challenge of thinking up a stupid but funny answer when you don't know the real answer.

But it would be nice not to come last so often, so if you are reading this and live near Staines, come on down and join in the fun, but only if you got the question wrong above, we don't need any more smart competition.

Monday, February 27, 2006

My first rant - Invasion

***Spoiler warning***


I've been watching this show on Channel 4 and E4 for weeks now, to be honest I am not sure why. Perhaps its because I can't wait to see what other unusual names they will come up with for key characters, after "Meriel" and "Larkin" who knows?

Or perhaps I am still hoping that it will actually turn out to be a bit more interesting and live up to some of the potential shown n the first few weeks.

So there I was last night watching the latest episode and actually getting quite interested, crazy Dave has met up with some other people that believe in his EBE theories; his brother-in-law has decided to start using his brain and put together all the whopping big clues that all is not right in his part of the Everglades; and Tom the sheriff decides that his inquisitive one-armed deputy (what is that all about) is being a bit too curious, plus he finds out his loyalty is not to spooky Tom, but to a higher power, namely the big JC himself.

So what does he do? He lures him out to a popular beach, popular that is with strange glowing EBEs in the water and then looks all surprised when he is taken off for an unplanned underwater excursion.

Finally we get to see a bit more of the EBE, in all its glowing orange proboscises and how the "pod people" get taken, nice.

Then after all this (almost) excitement and the feel of ponderous plotlines actually shifting into 2nd gear, the producers go and spoil it with the most ludicrous plot twist of all. One armed deputy, turn into two armed "pod person" glorifying in his miracle, so what does spooky Tom do, take him out into the woods with a chain saw and a contrite explanation about how God got it wrong and didn't mean to give you your arm back and "people don't like things they cant explain" speech.

You think you can guess the rest, disbelief; a struggle; the sound of a chain saw starting; spurting noises muffled by screams. Oh no, almost but not quite. No, we get asked to believe that Mr stupid deputy, is so stupid and loyal that he will willingly go off into a derelict cabin and do the deed himself.

Maybe I am missing something, maybe next week's episode will start with Deputy Dim running away fro the cabin with both arms pumping whilst making tortured screaming noises. Somehow, I don't think so, I look forward to see how the writers try to cover up the fact that is well healed stump of an arm has suddenly become a bit more troublesome overnight

With at least ten more weeks to go, plenty more time to suspend disbelief. And to think I watched this live and chose to record 24. Ah well, at least that means I can get my Jack Bauer fix sans adverts


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Yet more science fiction becoming fact

One of my favourite books by Arthur C Clarke, is The Fountains of Paradise. I read this in my teenage years and was inspired by the theory of the "Space Elevator", where cars, running down a magnetic track anchored between an asteroid in orbit to a ground station on Earth, generate electricity to power cars rising up the same cable. Such a system would make traveling into low Earth orbit, cheap affordable and relatively safe, when compared to sitting on top of a chemically powered rocket.

Like almost all of Clarke's novels, the idea had a solid foundation in fact and only lacked the technical capability of its time to implement. One of the things I love about good science fiction is seeing the some of this scientific dreaming become reality. Consequently, I was delighted to read this article about a real project to build a Space Elevator by 2018 and a recent successful test by a private company LiftPort which involved a 6 mile high cable tethered to a balloon and a robotic lifter which managed to climb 460m up the cable.

I'll watch this project with interest...

Fascinating article about perception of time

I found this article on the BBC News website, which IMHO is one of the best news sites around.

Have you ever experienced your own personal time dilation? Usually this happens at a stressful time, such as in a car crash, where you perception shifts and time seems to slow down. Is it real or is it just a psychological memory blip?

Well a team from the University of Texas came up with a plan to test and measure if this actually happens. They invented a device called a "perceptual chronometer" which flickers between two displays of an LED screen. Normally the flicker is so fast you only see a blur. But if during a time of stress, such as falling backwards of a 33 foot high scaffolding, then if time perception slowed down, you should be able to read the display.

After repeated jumps the "victim", sorry the test subject actually made out a random number on the device, proving that his perception of time had slowed down and he was able to read the LED screen - fascinating stuff.

After this I went on to speculate about the practical applications of this? Surely the next step is to try and determine what physiological symptoms cause this shift in perception and if it is possible to recreate it at will. I am sure the military would find a use for a heightened perception "switch", but maybe they wouldn't like a perpetually terrified platoon of soldiers. Good material for a short story I think...

Note to

I just saved my first post for this blog and used the built in spell check facility. I found it very amusing that the Blogger spell check function didn't recognise the words "blogging" and "blog". Errmm, bit of a fundamental oversight I would think...

Update: When spell checking this post, it didn't recognise "Blogger" either

Blogging again, but this time it is personal...

I recently added a blog to my business website Third Aspect, but this one is to be a mix of personal interest, random musings and anything else I feel like. Will anybody read it anyway??